Protecting Your Organization and Your Employees from Arc Flash
by Nick Huffman, PE, Electrical Practice Area Lead
Arc Flash: What is it?
It is estimated that five to ten arc flash incidents occur each day in the United States. An arc flash is an explosion caused by an arc of electrical energy between phase to ground (energized part and grounded part) or phase to phase (energized part to energized part). These potentially fatal explosions occur for a variety of reasons, such as improperly maintained equipment and lack safety precautions.
Are You Protecting Your Organization and Your Employees?
Is your organization protected? What about your employees? Are you compliant with current state and federal laws? Many facilities McGill visits across North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are not complying with Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.
Serious Nature of Arc Flashes
An arc flash incident can be fatal to employees who may be nearby. Should they survive, a myriad of potential injuries can affect them. Not only personal injury but large fines can result from being out of compliance with the regulations. Arc flash explosions reach temperatures four times hotter than the sun, causing serious burns and sending ~2,000 victims to burn centers each year. The sound is severe enough to cause hearing loss, and the burning light can result in permanent blindness. In addition, the pressure from the explosion can launch the employee off the ground, and his or her fall can lead to concussions, broken bones, and damaged lungs.
Arc Flash Labeling
The labeling requirements of arc flash hazards first appeared in the National Electric Code (NEC) in 2002. Flash Protection Article (110.16) of this code states that electrical equipment must be field marked as a warning of potential electric arc flash hazards. The marking should be placed in a visible location, easily seen by professionals before examination, adjustment, servicing, or maintenance of the equipment. The labeling of electrical equipment includes such things as switchboards, panelboards, industrial control panels, meter socket enclosures, and motor control centers.
Who Needs Arc Flash Labels?
Water and wastewater facilities use much of this equipment to power and control the production process. OSHA considers NEC’s Flash Protection Article to be an industry practice and in most jurisdictions a code requirement. OSHA citations have been increasing, and an audit after an arc flash incident or “near miss” can cost the municipality or utility in fines, loss production, and litigation. Multiple sources report that the average cost of a single incident is estimated at 15 million dollars.
Arc Flash Requirements
Not only does OSHA require facilities to guard against hazardous electrical conditions for employees but also requires it for contractors. Hiring contractors does not release facility owners from liability should an incident occur. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires the facility owner to provide electrical contractors with “information about the employer’s installation that the contract employer needs to make the assessments required,” [NFPA 70E Article 110.3(A)(2)].
The McGill Team Can Help
Our team at McGill strives to educate the towns and cities we serve, and we are available to help you and your facilities comply with OSHA requirements by performing an arc flash study. This study provides calculations for the degree of arc flash hazard, which will then determine the level of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed to be worn by personnel working on the live equipment. The study also involves a short circuit analysis along with a protective device coordination study. Both studies help determine if the equipment is over-dutied or miscoordinated, which could lead to higher incident energy at the equipment being serviced. Once the arc flash study is completed, we can provide information on proper employee safety such as proper training, proper access to PPE, and proper maintenance of electrical gear.
Our goal is to assist you in providing a safe work environment for your employees. For questions concerning how your facility could benefit from an arc flash study, please contact Nick Huffman, PE, Electrical Practice Area Lead, at 828.328.2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org.